Good afternoon! Our reading for this Friday, March 22, 2019 is 1 Thessalonians 3:1-11.
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.
As I look back upon my 36 years of ministry I remember fondly the places and the people I have served. They contributed a great deal to my life and I have been blessed through them as I hope they would say my time with them blessed their lives. I am sure this is generally true as I have received contact from many in recent days probably assuming I may encouragement at this particular time when I have some great decisions to make. I am sure there are others for whom I am not held in high esteem and that is okay as we should never expect to please all persons.
We too readily confirm our worth by the reception of others when we know that it is God’s affirmation and approval we should seek above that of all others. It remains a struggle to realize those you may care for consider you with little regard. Then there are those whom you truly do love but who will never return the affection, or even worse, become your enemy and persecutor. The Apostle Paul loved the Thessalonian church. He was their spiritual founder. Due to this deep connection he feared for their well-being as he knew they would have to overcome great hardship and persecution which he faced regularly.
Every church in the first century faced some hardship but certain churches bore more than their share than others. Thessalonica was a Roman capital in Macedonia because of where it was situated as a prominent seaport. With such exposure when persecution arose against the Christian faith the church of Thessalonica was a prime target. After several months of ministry there even the apostle was forced to flee. Paul moved on but the state of the church weighed heavily upon him. He faced relentless persecution for his ministry and hoped that this church was able to withstand the storm and still thrive.
I have looked back out of concern for churches and communities I have served. Some which thrived during my ministry have been reduced to a shadow of what they had been. This is not arrogance on my part, just a statistical fact and a source of sorrow for me. My wife and others have always consoled me by identifying the people whose lives we played a part in impacting for Christ. Paul was uncertain what had happened to this church and sent his trusted understudy, Timothy, to visit and report back to him. He was pleasantly surprised to learn how the church stood together and was growing amidst persecution.
Oh how the apostle’s heart must have rejoiced as he faced further obstacles in the new places he was ministering to and sought to establish strong churches. He might have entertained for the moment that he might have wasted his time and efforts only to discover God had protected and provided for those whom he loved and left behind.
Standing firm in the truth we know in Christ is always difficult. The forces of evil surround us; their goal is our defeat. Our present culture has been labeled as post-Christian and I fear is readily becoming increasingly hostile to the full truth of Christ. The church will become smaller yet stronger and leaner. Those who stand true to the fact of the transforming power of faith in Christ will become more certain of the truth they profess for they must in the face of such obstacles.
The fellowship of those who follow Jesus will become deeper and needed so we as individuals may face with courage the rising tide of skepticism and criticism. This is certainly the will of God for only as love and faith is tested in the fire of adversity will it become perfected and evidenced as true. What can we do? We must pray together for ourselves and for one another. We need to stand firm in our resolve to love and even do good to those who persecute us. It is love when tested by the cross that can convince a sinful and rebellious heart of another of God’s unconditional love.
Brian Homan, pastor
Liverpool First UM Church